Is poor sleep or lack of sleep holding you back from being your best?
Whatever the reasons, if your sleep is not good and you wake up feeling tired, stressed and lethargic, then you are unlikely to feel optimally recharged for the day ahead. Does that sound familiar?
Getting enough quality sleep can make a big difference to how we look and feel, and our ability to perform at home and at work. Ever noticed how your skin looks so much better after a good night’s sleep – rested and smoother? Or perhaps you’ve been able to approach what seemed like a knotty problem the night before with more confidence and ease in the morning after a night of restful sleep.
Aside from improved clarity, focus, and memory function, good sleep works for us on so many other levels too, from strengthening our immune system to helping us maintain a healthy weight. Just like food, water, air, and light, sleep helps to restore vital energy at a cellular level.
How much sleep we actually need will vary from person to person, and their age, but generally the recommended amount for adults ranges between 8 and 9 hours per day. An occasional blip or late night probably won’t knock us back too much, but regular sleep deprivation will build up a deficit over time and make us feel de-energised and stressed.
Our body’s circadian rhythm (24-hour sleep/wake cycle) is driven by our biological clock and influenced by daylight and darkness. This basically means that we’re hard wired to wake up when it’s light outside and to become sleepy when it’s dark. Ideal sleep/wake times can differ from one individual to another, and depend on whether you’re a ‘lark’ or an ‘owl’, but getting too much out of sync with this natural rhythm can impact negatively on our ability to sleep well.
Sleep occurs in cycles of Non-REM (non rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Each cycle lasts around 90 minutes and we generally need about five cycles to feel refreshed and well-rested. On falling asleep we enter three sleep stages of the Non-REM phase, before experiencing deep REM sleep. Frequent interruption of the Non-REM sleep stages can stop us from reaching the deep REM ‘dreaming sleep’ phase.
Non-REM sleep helps restore the body, while REM sleep restores the mind and boosts our clarity, learning and memory functions.
Hormones also play an important part in how well we sleep. With the onset of darkness our levels of serotonin dip and melatonin is gradually released and increases our urge to sleep – but this can be compromised by staying up too late under the glare of artificial light. Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting off free radicals, detoxing and rejuvenating the brain and body during sleep.
Regular lack of sleep can mean that we have too little of the hormone leptin, which decreases hunger, in our body, and too much of the hormone ghrelin which increases hunger – to the point where we don’t feel that natural ‘switch’ signalling that we’re replete. Habitual short nights, burning the midnight oil, and satisfying midnight hunger pangs when there is no real need for food, can easily help to pile on those unwanted extra pounds over time!
A healthy lifestyle includes good sleep
Are you going to bed too late to get the amount of sleep that you need to wake up feeling recharged and positive, or having difficulty getting up at the sound of the alarm clock after a night of fitful sleep triggered by too much late night tea/coffee? Ideally, we should be able to wake up without the shrill prompt of an alarm! Or is your exposure to blue light, which disrupts production of the sleep hormone melatonin, from too much late night TV or use of digital devices, making it difficult for you to fall asleep?
Identifying and changing any lifestyle factors that are getting in the way of your sleep, and sticking to regular sleep/wake times that are in tune with nature will stand you in good stead. Whether you’re a ‘lark’ or a ‘night owl’, practising good sleep hygiene can help you to achieve better sleep for physical and mental recovery. What could you change to help you sleep better?